Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Running Away from Winter

Several months ago we were notified that Justin is not allowed to accumulate more than a few days leave at a time, and he has exceeded the limit.  We decided to take a vacation to Florida to go camping in the Everglades and drive out to Key West.  We were so excited about this, but something about the trip didn't seem quite right.  I guess we just weren't ready to let go of the idea though, so we switched gears a little and decided to road trip to Florida.  We started madly researching everything we could about Florida in the winter.  We had all kinds of visions of ourselves hanging out on a beach in Key West, snorkeling with manatees, snapping photos of alligators, and cruising across the USA exploring anything and everything that caught our fancy along the way.  Justin was in charge of selecting the route.  After considerable deliberation we decided to roll the dice a little and we booked our first hotel, a non-refundable room, booked through Priceline, at a 3-star hotel in Williams, AZ for a mere $40.  Day one of our adventure was planned.  We went to bed that night and I laid there wide awake for a long time trying to ignore that pit in the bottom of my stomach that was telling me that I needed to pull the plug on this little family vacation to Florida.  I hated doing it, and was sorely disappointed to scratch all the plans, but scratch them we did, and I don't even know why, and probably never will.

The holiday season for us was rather hectic, and served as something of a distraction to our ill-fated vacation plans.  We made multiple trips up and back to Boise, Salt Lake, Logan and Orem for various festivities and family functions.  The finale to our holidays was spending a few days in Phoenix with Uncle David while Justin and his brother Steven attended the Fiesta Bowl to watch Boise State play.

When the holidays were finally over, and things started to return to "normal" we were reminded of a hotel room we had bought near the Grand Canyon on January 15th.  We talked it over, and finally decided that there was no sense in not using what we had already paid for, so we decided to plan a vacation to Arizona over the long weekend.  We reserved a rental car, and then busied ourselves reading up on all the things there are to see and do in Arizona in the winter.  We had decided that we wanted to see a few overlooks of the Grand Canyon and then continue on to the Petrified Forest National Park a couple of hours away.  That's really all that we had agreed on doing.

Wednesday night I got out a few sets of underwear and some socks to pack, and then got interrupted.  Justin came in the bedroom, saw my things sitting on the edge of the bed, assumed I hadn't put my laundry away, and thoughtfully put them back in the drawers for me.  That was the closest either one of us came to doing any prior packing for our Arizona excursion.  The next morning we were still undecided on whether or not we were going to camp in Southern Arizona.  That was Justin's idea, so he had upgraded the rental car to a small SUV in order to accommodate our camping equipment.  In the midst of some packing that should have probably been more frenzied than it was, we paused to make a second hotel reservation out near the Petrified Forest National Park, so at least we had 2 nights of lodging determined for our 5 day trip.  Justin placed the last of the camping equipment in the car, and I came out to the parking lot with Vivian just as the car "locked itself" with the keys inside.  After spending several days with this car I feel confident in asserting that this car does not automatically just lock itself, but this is what was communicated to me as I stood there with Vivian and observed my husband fly into something of a rage over the incident.  I handed him my phone, told him we'd be back upstairs in the apartment and to let us know when AAA had arrived to unlock the door.  For the record, they are super fast about getting someone out there to assist, and all is well that ends well.

We left around 2pm.  The drive was relatively uneventful, other than the fact that driving through the Kaibab National Forest in the middle of a winter night was an eerie experience because of how isolated you feel.  We drove through the dark mountains for miles never passing another car, and were relieved when that part of the trip was behind us.  We finally arrived in Williams, AZ a few minutes before 11, and discovered the town to be much bigger than we had anticipated.  We had not bothered to look up directions to our hotel, assuming that it would be easy to spot in a small town.  We drove around for 20 minutes or so before I spotted a McDonald's a few blocks away and suggested to Justin that we make our way there, and use their free wi-fi to look up the address online.  Fortuitously our hotel happened to be across the street from the McDonald's, so we were spared the hassle of trying to look it up.  Unfortunately, we decided to check-in first, and then report back to the McDonald's for dinner, since it appeared to be the only establishment in town that was still open at that hour.  We were wrong, it closed at 11.  We had to settle for some sandwiches that Justin had hastily prepared before we left.  He had hoped to save them for when we were camping.  He had made four, we ate two of them.

The next morning we woke up late and made our way out to the visitor's center where we watched an IMAX film that has convinced me that I would someday like to go on a guided rafting excursion through the Grand Canyon.  Next we went to the Canyon, and to be honest, it was underwhelming.  I expected something more spectacular.  I'm not sure in what way I wanted it to be even more spectacular, because it is beautiful, and enormous, but I suppose I just simply felt that it had been over hyped.   All the same, after having a heated little debate in the parking lot about where to go for lunch, we elected to eat our last set of camping sandwiches and then visited a few overlooks.


My people on the rim of the Grand Canyon
We were rushing because we wanted to go see some Indian ruins called Montezuma's Castle, a couple of hours away.   We drove all the way there, they closed 20 minutes before we arrived.  We drove all the way back, and then an additional couple more hours out to Holbrook, AZ, had dinner, and checked into our hotel.

For the second day in a row, Vivian napped in the car all day, and was ready to go at an absurd hour the next morning.  The upside is that it got us out the door earlier the second morning, and we took our time doing a few short hikes, that were more like walks, in the Petrified Forest National Park.



Vivian clutching a little chunk of petrified wood.  We did put it back.
For some reason I had believed in all earnestness that it would be difficult to actually find the petrified wood that is allegedly everywhere in that park.  It turns out that not only is the terrain of the park quite picturesque, but the entire park is littered with the petrified wood.  It's everywhere you look.  I've never been anywhere quite like it.  The rocks/wood are beautiful, and surreal looking, and I was completely taken off guard by the abundance and appeal of these artifacts.
So those rocks all over in the background...they're not rocks.  I mean, they are rocks, but they're petrified pieces of wood, which are technically rocks now.

She loves any day that she gets to spend the whole day with Dad.




After that we returned to Holbrook for lunch and on the drive there discussed our next move.  I was exhausted from two days of early morning wake ups with Vivian, and was somewhat inclined to call it and go home at that point.  However, Justin was really set on camping, and had read some rave reviews about the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  The only thing we agreed on at that point is that the name Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is way too long.  I knew that once we were there I would be happy that I let myself be dragged along for the experience, so I relented and we determined to head south for the warmer weather.
This is a place we stopped along the way called Becker Butte Lookout.  We thought it was better scenery than anything we saw in the Grand Canyon.
We knew the drive to Organ Pipe Cactus was going to be a long one so we left immediately after lunch, and the only stop we made along the way was at that lookout place in the picture above and a few short breaks for Vivian to eat.  We drove for hours, and finally Vivian became inconsolable in her car seat.  For whatever reason she hadn't napped at all that day, and was very unhappy about the situation.  We weren't anywhere near a campground and were nearing Phoenix, but still two hours out from our final destination.  It was late and as soon as Justin saw a sign on the freeway for a KOA he pulled off and headed there.  Sleep deprivation had really set in for me as well at that point, and I was probably even less pleasant company than Vivian.  I think our fellow campers probably felt kind of bad for Justin.  The next morning, I was nicer, and life seemed better.  Before we left we secured ourselves a KOA directory, since this is the second time we've been saved by one when things weren't working out as planned.

We continued our driving south.  Really far south.  The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument borders Mexico.  As we pulled into the town just outside of the monument, Ajo, AZ we started to question the wisdom of this trip.  First of all, the area was not really that pretty, but even more worrisome were the barred windows on every establishment in town and the bullet holes in the buildings of the town square, where we stopped for lunch.  The weather however was perfect.  It was a sunny 80 degree day outside.  
Vivian was mesmerized with the flag in the town square.
We chatted with some people at the cafe where we had lunch who had been out to the monument the previous day.  They loved it, and said they had never felt unsafe while there.  We felt reassured, but decided to report straight to the visitor's center to speak to a ranger and get an honest opinion about the wisdom of camping there with a baby.  The first ranger was a woman who was very nice and encouraging, the second ranger was a kind of passively rude Hispanic man.  He acted like we were idiots for asking the question, despite the fact that there is a memorial outside the visitor's center for a park ranger who was killed in the monument by the cartel several years ago.  We essentially tried our best to just ignore the man, the woman reassured us that there had never been an incident with a tourist in the park.  So we secured ourselves a campsite.

It was Sunday, so we had decided not to do anything too ambitious on the Sabbath.  We took a 21-mile scenic drive through the monument.  The conditions of the road left a lot to be desired, but it was a one-way road, and we had to go so slow that Justin pulled Vivian out of her carseat and let her sit on his lap in the front.  She loved it.  The park was astonishingly beautiful, more than we had anticipated, or initially realized.  Our photos will never do this place justice.
One of the best stretches of road


My people with an Organ Pipe Cactus.


Vivian and I with a Saguaro Cactus.
After that we went on a stroll called the Desert View.


Looking back at the campground



We returned to our campsite in time for one of the best sunsets I've ever seen.  We promised ourselves that some day we will be back to spend more than a day there.  We were very sorry to leave and start the long drive home Monday morning.  We broke up the long day in the car with a visit back to Montezuma's Castle.  This time they were open. 


It was not the most exciting thing I've ever seen, but gave us a nice break from the driving.  We stopped again at the Navajo Bridge that's somewhere out near the Utah border. 
Our baby is astonishingly patient with all of our driving.


We pulled over again to take a few pictures of the sunset against the Vermillion Cliffs.  Again, our pictures are sadly inadequate. 
We made it home around midnight, and as soon as I set foot out of the car I immediately wished that I could somehow transport myself back to the warmth of Southern Arizona.  I love the desert, and I love it even more when it's offering me a break from Utah's cold winter weather.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

This Parenting Thing

From the first night little Vivian showed up I was bracing myself for the worst.  I had heard all the horror stories about sleepless nights with a screaming infant who would refuse to nurse.  We had one sort of rough night together, the first one home, at which point I decided there was no way I would actually rollover on my baby and kill her in the night, and determined that co-sleeping was what worked for us.  After that we were waking up once or twice a night together to nurse, and then once, and then never.  People would make remarks to Justin and I when she was only a few weeks old about how we probably weren't getting any sleep lately, and we'd just sort of look at each other and shrug.  Truthfully I slept better after having her than I did while I was pregnant.  We climb in bed every night, turn off the light, she falls asleep, and that's it, we hear from her again in the morning.

She slept well, she ate well.  She seems to be an exceptionally smiley, happy baby.  We've gone entire days without hearing her cry.  We've forced her to spend an entire day in her car seat without much backlash, and only then at the end of the day when we're so close to home that we've made her wait to nurse.  The hardest part of parenting appeared to be trying to keep the house clean when it's seemingly always littered with baby supplies and unfolded loads of laundry.

Then something changed. I'm not sure what the catalyst has been, but several weeks ago we climbed in bed, turned out the lights, and she snuggled up close to me, and then started kicking, and flinching, and then writhing around, and then there was unabashed fussing.  I thought maybe she wanted to nurse.  No.  Turns out she wanted to stand up.  So there I am holding up my baby so she can stand on top of me, and I can make out in the dim lights her little eyes darting around the dark room.  They came to rest on her father who had wisely rolled away from her and was feigning sleep.  I jostled him until he rolled over to see her standing there, wide-eyed staring at him in the dark.  He leaned in to ask her why she was still awake and was greeted with her jumping up and down on me, flapping her chubby little arms and squealing with excitement that the fun parent was awake again.  The fun parent, laughed, rolled over, and went back to sleep, and she was stuck with Mom again.  Sorry, Viv.  After some time of her standing on my stomach, chewing on her fingers as she laughed, growled, shouted with enthusiasm, and then cried whenever I attempted to get her to sit or lay back down, we got up.  She wasn't fussy, she just wanted to play.  At midnight.  I let her roll around on the floor to amuse herself for about half an hour and then we got back in bed and she drifted off and slept the rest of the night like nothing had happened.  Weird, but I figure there are worse fates than a baby who is hyper late at night.  Then the next night we had a repeat incident.  Same thing, the lights went off and she immediately wanted to stand up.  This time I had her standing on the bed between Justin and I, and she carefully moved herself into position and then took a seat on her sleeping dad.  She sat there on him for probably 30 minutes or so chatting and chewing on her fingers, and crying inconsolably at me every time I moved her.  She finally gave up on him and allowed me to get her back under the covers and to sleep.

Since then our baby has been quite erratic about sleep.  Sometimes we enjoy a peaceful night of sleep, other times...like last night for instance, we climb in bed and she lays there squealing and wiggling, insists on being stood up, or rolls on top of me and pants in my face (a favorite tactic to get Mom to laugh so she knows I'm not really sleeping yet).  She of course makes up for lost hours of sleep by napping throughout the day so she can be rested up again for the next night's party.  I've had to start limiting nap time, something I never thought I would have to do.

So that's not really so bad, weird, but not unmanageable, and I still wouldn't ever trade any of that for the stories of colicky babies I hear from other mothers.  However, we have crossed into a new frontier of solid foods and this is not as smooth sailing as I had hoped.  We decided to start her on solids a little early (she's still only 5 months) because she has realized that we're eating in front of her, and this has been a very upsetting realization for her, and therefore has limited our ability to eat in peace.  We tried a little rice cereal and she wasn't all that interested in it.  So we moved on to bananas, and we seemed to have a winner.  She loved it, and the two times we fed it to her she enthusiastically sat in her high chair desperately trying to snatch at the spoon to shove it into her mouth faster than we were getting it there.  Unfortunately, bananas do not love Vivian.  Four days later we still hadn't seen the bananas, or anything else for that matter, exit Vivian, and she seemed to be experiencing some degree of distress.  So after calling the pediatrician's office we were instructed to soak her in a warm bath of baking soda for 20 minutes, and if that didn't work try bicycling her legs, and if that failed move on to an enema.

Justin was helping me bathe her and after 15 minutes or so in the bath he leaned in and pleaded with her "Vivian please poop so we don't get to that last option."  Nothing.  We tried the bicycle legs, she cried and acted uncomfortable, still nothing.  I gave my baby an enema.  She screamed, I cried, Justin looked completely dismayed, like he wasn't sure which one of us was in more distress.  The problem was however resolved a few moments later.  However, here we are four days later without a dirty diaper, but thankfully this time she seems to be fine so we can wait a little longer and hope this works itself out.  My mom overheard me saying to Justin that I never in my life thought that I would be so concerned with the frequency of another person's bowel movements.  She just laughed at me, and told me "welcome to parenthood."  There are many, many little parenting hardships that I had contemplated and prepared myself for, and then this...this is not one of them.  I never saw this one coming, and I find it to be a very distressing situation.

The last day or two she's learned to sort of soldier crawl along the floor, but will only do it when she's trying to reach something.  I've discovered that if I put a bottle on it's side on the floor she will chase after it, but always nudge it a little with her fingertips and roll it further away.  Maybe it makes me a bad parent that I do this to her on purpose in the hopes that this exercise will get things moving along on the inside, but I tell myself it makes me a good one.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

This year we were supposed to spend Thanksgiving with my family, here in Utah.  However, Justin's family was headed to Southern California to do Thanksgiving with his aunt, and visit his grandpa, and of course spend a couple of days at Disneyland.  Since Vivian has never met either his aunt, or her great-grandpa, we decided to join them for the first part of the trip and then race back for Thanksgiving dinner with my family.

We had toyed with the idea of flying back and forth, but of course my husband couldn't pass up the opportunity to make this a road trip, detouring through two National Parks on the way.

Our first day we left Riverton and drove to Great Basin National Park.  It was only a little over three hours away.  We pulled into the Visitors Center, which was closed for the season, but a sign said the bathrooms were still open, and an odor wafting up from the backseat told us we would be needing to change a diaper.  I pulled Vivian out of the carseat and discovered that less than four hours in, and she had already blown out her first outfit.  Ordinarily I handle these situations, but this time I passed her off to Justin and told him to deal with it.  A part of me was kidding, but when he didn't resist and just hauled her into the men's room with him, I wasn't about to stop him and fight for the opportunity to be on the cleanup crew.  I stood outside reading the informative little nature signs posted out there.  I read all of them.  Then I took a bathroom break.  Then I found a sign I had missed on my first pass, and read all of that.  Then I returned to the car to see if perhaps Justin had emerged from the men's room while I was taking my bathroom break.  He hadn't.  Then I barged into the men's room to find out what was taking so long.  I walked in to find my baby laying on a changing table inside the stall, laughing and talking to herself.  Her dad was at the sink washing his hands, and each individual piece of soiled garment was neatly hung across the top of the stall wall.  It is still unclear to me why it took so long, but I suspect that I would have been very amused to have watched that whole process unfolding.

There is very little to do in Great Basin National Park during the winter.  It's too cold to hike, and a lot of the roads were already closed in anticipation of snow.  However, Lehman caves, located inside the park, are open year round.  There is one tour a day in the winter, and Justin had rushed us out the door early that morning to make absolutely sure that we were there in time.

The caves were great, but I found that I vastly preferred our experience exploring Carlsbad Caverns last year.  That's primarily because at Carlsbad they just kind of turn you loose to do your own touring of the place, but in Lehman caves you're stuck on a guided tour.  Early on in the tour I developed a dislike for our tour guide.  She was an elderly lady, who wanted to demonstrate to us all how dark and quiet the cave is without any lights.  So she turned off all the lights.  That's all fine and well, but then she kept them off for several minutes while she launched into a lengthy lecture on light pollution.  After about 30 seconds in the pitch black Vivian started to cry, and rather than turn the lights back on and cut her little speech about light pollution short, our guide simply shouted at the group over Vivian's crying.  So I had very little use for her from the get-go.  Once the lights were turned back on Vivian settled back down again, and was fine for the rest of the tour.  In general the caves were great, and I would recommend them to anyone who makes their way into the area.


Vivian and I trying to stay to the back of the tour.
After the caves there wasn't much to do in Great Basin National Park.  We drove around some, but the road closures prohibited too much exploring, so it wasn't very long before we headed out of the park and on to Ely, Nevada to find our hotel, the Prospector Inn and Casino.  It was about as great as it sounds.  As you enter you are greeted by two massive bronze dogs (They looked like Doberman's to me, but I'm not really a dog person, so who knows), and a table full of small bags of complimentary popcorn.  You have to walk through the casino, past the slot machines, which were already decorated with tacky Christmas decorations to get to the rooms.  The hallway was adorned with crappy paintings of the old west, and a fascinating display of little bits of different types of barbed wire.  The first thing I saw when I walked into our room was a black and white photo of Marilyn Monroe with her lipstick tinted neon pink.  They don't offer a free complimentary breakfast, but there were three suckers left on the bed, and a yellow rubber ducky in the bathroom.  We were also given a three dollar gambling credit, coupons for two free margaritas and a punch card that would give us a free nights stay after staying there six times.  I've definitely stayed in worse places, but I don't see us ever earning that free night.  We ate dinner at a Chinese restaurant in town where Justin is convinced all of the workers were faking their Chinese accents.  We stopped at a grocery store on our way out of town the next morning for some breakfast.

Our drive to Death Valley the next day was significantly longer, but turned out to be quite picturesque.  We drove straight into the park, and coming from the Nevada side you wind up making a drop from about 3,300 feet to several feet below sea level extremely fast.  When we arrived at the Visitor's Center Vivian needed to eat and I needed to sit and wait for my insides to catch up to what had just happened.  Mostly it was my sinuses which ended up making an audible squeaking noise as they released a bunch of pressure.  It was very weird, but after that I felt great and we rushed out of there to see a few things before the sun went down (it set a little before 4:30 that day).  

We drove through Artist's Palette first, and then headed over to Badwater Basin.
Artist's Palette

Badwater Basin





After that we left Death Valley and returned to Beatty, Nevada, which touts itself as home to the gateway to Death Valley, the largest candy store in Nevada, and the Shady Lady Ranch.  We did visit the candy store, which was disappointingly small, (and I have a hard time believing that something bigger doesn't exist in Vegas) and overpriced.  We checked into the Stagecoach Inn and Casino.  They had offered us a huge military discount, so we had gone with that one over our other options which all seemed suspect and overpriced anyway.  I would describe this hotel as very "no-frills."  For instance, there was no clock in our room.  There were also no decorations of any sort in the room, or even the standard pen and pad of paper.  It did however seem to be pretty clean.  This hotel also did not offer a free breakfast, but there was a Denny's restaurant attached to the casino that was prominently advertised at every turn and on each piece of paper the hotel issued us.  After multiple failed attempts to connect to their allegedly free wi-fi, we gave up and ate at the Denny's rather than trying to find a place to eat in town.

The next morning we stopped at the Rhyolite Ghost Town on our way back into Death Valley.  


It was super bright outside, but the only sunglasses we had with us were these pink ones of mine, which fortuitously fit nicely over top of Justin's glasses.
We stopped on our way in that day for a picture by the sign
and then continued on to our next stop, which was Zabriskie Point.
Next we drove to Devil's Golf Course.


Then we did a short hike up Golden Canyon.  This was a bit of a controversial decision for us.  I believed that we had agreed the night before that we were ill-prepared to do any hiking, whereas somehow Justin believed that exactly the opposite conclusion had been reached.   As a result I hiked in blue jeans that were way to snug and uncomfortable for this sort of thing, and I regretted wearing them, pretty much the entire hike.  Additionally, Vivian has packed on several pounds since our last hike, but is still just a tiny bit too short to be transitioned out of the baby bjorn into the ergo carrier we have purchased.  Very early on into this hike I swore to Justin that I will not do another hike with her until she is big enough for that ergo.  She's way too heavy to carry comfortably in the bjorn anymore.  Thankfully it was a very short hike, and mostly in the shade, since we yet again failed to pack a hat for her.
We had to improvise a little since I still don't entirely trust the sunscreen on her skin.



After that we stopped by some sand dunes, but they looked crowded and less impressive than we had hoped, so we never even exited the car.  

Due to our inability to connect to the internet the night before we hadn't done a lot of reading on which way is best to exit the park.  I kind of assumed that we'd go out through Baker and get on the 15, but Justin pointed out there was another way that sent us through San Bernardino, and I assumed that he had done his research on this.  What I didn't know is that he hadn't, and had been planning on doing that at the hotel.  So we set off in the direction of San Bernardino, and after about an hour of driving in the most desolate place I have ever been, we had still not left the park.  We were also in a portion of the park that Justin described as "super ugly."  I could not disagree.  Usually there is some redeeming feature to every area...but we never found one out there.  It felt like we were driving out there all day.  All I can really definitively say is that it was in no way a faster route, and at one point I found myself on a two-lane highway in nowhere San Bernardino County for an hour trapped behind a convoy of truckers.  Regardless we finally arrived at our destination, and met up with Justin's family in Riverside where they had already checked us into a room in Courtyard Marriott.  After Ely and Beatty it felt like we were staying in a 5-star resort for the rich and famous.

The next morning we visited Justin's Aunt Melinda and her family and we all drove into Newport Beach for lunch, where we failed to take any pictures.  Not sure how that happened.  For dinner we met up with Justin's grandpa and his wife in Tustin.  Vivian got to meet her only living great-grandfather. 
She was endlessly fascinated with his beard.

The next day we all went to Disneyland.  Vivian obviously couldn't ride too much, but with all the family there I never missed out on anything I wanted to ride.  There was always someone willing to take a turn staying off with her.

We did however ride the Monorail, It's a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Buzz Lightyear together.
Exiting the Buzz Lightyear ride

She was great, but Disneyland is a lot for a little person to take in all at once, so we ended up having to leave early both nights, but truthfully she lasted later than I anticipated both times. 

On Wednesday morning we said goodbye to Justin's family and made our way back to Utah.  This time we went the standard route on I-15, resisted the urge to explore a few detours and were back in plenty of time for Thanksgiving the next day with my family at John and Michelle's house.  

It's always good to be back home, but in what I suppose has become our tradition, we're already starting to talk about where we want to go next.  Since it's never too late to say what you're thankful for, I'll say that this Thanksgiving I am especially grateful for a husband whose not just a willing, but an eager partner in all of these little outings, and I'm thankful for our adorable little baby girl, and I'm thankful that we have had all this time together this year, and the means and health to make it memorable.  Happy late Thanksgiving!